"One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful."
- Sigmund Freud
“You believe you haven’t been doing well for so long? You think you won’t find anything for you here?” I knew that look. He wanted a straight answer, no appeasing him and mama about how I have been faring after grad school.
My dad has asked me this before, but this time felt different. I had been seeking employment for over a year non-stop, to the extent that my writing was suffering. In February, I attended the AWP Conference in Seattle, Washington in an attempt to stay connected to the wider writing community. Two days before this conversation, I had arrived back in the first week of Ramadan from the weeklong VONA (Voices of Our Nation Arts Foundation) Genre Writing Workshop at the University of California, Berkeley that I was blessed to have been accepted into attending. Both the conference and workshop fueled my passion to write, but there was still something missing. I was struggling.
“Well… Baba, obviously, I have been struggling. I mean… I don’t voice it publically, but… yeah. I honestly don’t believe there is anything for me in San Diego, but AlhamduliAllah.” I tried to figure out how he was going to react to my next statements. My mom had her head down, working on her doctorate dissertation thesis on her laptop, but her fingers weren’t moving and neither were her eyes. She was listening, not reacting.
Now, looking back, I don’t remember exactly what I told my parents, but I do remember the gist of it…because it has been spiraling through my mind for months on no end. I was as honest as I could be with my parents. To paraphrase it:
“I have been applying for work non-stop for over a year. I’m at a point in my life where I don’t just want, but also need, to step into the field I truly want to throw all my passion. Something that actually makes me want to wake up in the morning. It doesn’t exist in San Diego. I don’t know if it even exists in California. I have been doing my best to network, but let’s face it – I see no one here, I speak to no one here, I spend all my time either with family or in some coffee shop with my time split between writing, editing, and applying for jobs. That’s not a life.”
My dad took a nice long pause, and so did my mom, to the extent that the bustle of noises from my siblings moving around the house and commotion of news airing on television silenced in my head. Everything seemed to be on pause but my parents. I held my breath as a rush of thoughts filled my head...
I had been disagreeing with my parents on a lot of issues — from the career I should go into to marriage and cultural norms. One thing I was certain of was that I was taking a lot of frustration out on my family… With stupid, petty disagreements, the kind where there’s no yelling, but you reach a point where you recognize that your time could be spent doing something much more beneficial and you and the person you’re disagreeing with will walk away, both minds unchanged. I was at a point where quite simply I didn’t want to see anyone, I didn’t want to spend time having a discussion with anyone, I didn’t want anyone asking me about my future or, even worse, suggesting that I wasn’t trying hard enough to find a husband, because that will surely solve all my problems. Just… no. I could only stand to see my family and grandmother. Everyone else was too much to handle. They were all noises adding on to the uncertainty of my future.
More difficult than anything, I didn’t know how to explain to my parents that I was very, to put it lightly, unhappy. I was constantly numb to anything happening around me. This scared me the most. I was internalizing every obstacle I was struggling to tackle. I’m not one to blame anyone or any element in my life for my setbacks or failures. I take out my frustration on myself, internally. I am aware that my migraines are caused by many factors, but I also know they don’t just appear out of thin air.
My greatest struggle was that I don’t do well with standing still. I prefer to live my life through movement. I welcome change. I welcome the unexpected, as long as it propels me forward. I'm not one to look back at my past. I learn from it, take what I need, but I'm always moving forward. I do not believe that we are meant to sit still while we watch life spin around us. That’s exactly what I was experiencing. My life was on pause – the longest pause I have ever had to endure. I knew that sooner than later, I was going to implode. There was no mountain high enough or ocean strong enough to conceal my inner scream.
I was finished with living in a lull in my life, at my age, and I knew my parents knew it. They had begun to tiptoe around my daily routine, careful with how they approached me about finding work or the mention of actually meeting anyone significant. While I love my family, to be surrounded solely by them, never a stranger other than those in the cars driving along side me, because even the baristas and coffee shop costumers became familiar, was driving me insane.
I was standing at the end of a cliff, and I knew that my only option was to jump. Not as the solution, but because jumping off the cliff would allow me to enter the ocean and there is so much waiting to be discovered in the waters encompassing the world. But, with financial instability in this day and age, how do you take a risk that big? All those articles and lists about the need to go out and experience life at a young age or in your twenties— absolutely ridiculous. They all require financial stability that I do not have. The greatest problem is that to gain that financial assurance, or at least some sort of hope to survive in this world, you need the risk.
“Maybe you need to try something different.” My dad stated. We were both still standing, facing each other, with my mother on the couch that was placed between us.
“How? I have tried everything in my capacity. All that’s left is to pick up my life and move, but I can’t do that without a stable job or… Is that even possible?” I let that thought hang there.
“What would it take for you to move to New York? Let’s say you go. What would you do with that option?” My dad stood facing me. It took me a moment to realize what he was offering me.
“Baba, how would I be able to afford that? I’m not saying the idea of going to New York is a easy choice, I— “ He cut me off.
“Put aside expenses. Let’s say you have 3 months in New York, make a plan and come to me. I want you to look everything up. Go. Go and seek your rizq there…” He continued on with what I had heard him tell me daily, everything happens for a reason and at the best time for the situation because everything from Allah is kheir, good. I need to continue to put my full faith and tawakul in Allah swt and His plan for me.
If there was ever going to be a time to take a big risk in my life, it would be now, while I’m young and simply unattached to anyone. My entire life was sitting in the palm of my hand and my dad was giving me an open ticket to snatch it and run.
“Whatever happens, it will be for the best. You go. Treat it as a trial. Your mama and I have always been in support of everything you do and my job is to make sure you are financially safe.” I realized that my mom had been staring at my dad with her, ‘Please tell me you’re not serious’ face, but my dad continued on, “This will not be easy and it will not happen overnight, but I have faith that it’s time, that you will find something there – Allah only knows – whether it’s work or something else… And if you choose to come back…” He opened his arms, “Your home is here. It will always be.” Both my parents were now looking at me, “Nothing ever goes as planned. That’s normal and okay. But, if God-forbid, you find nothing there, then you consider this another adventure. You come back and work on a new plan. If you’re ready, then do this.”
I wasn’t going to argue, but I was stunned. My parents are incredible and amazing and I know I write about them frequently, but every awesome parent has limits. For me, both Islam and culture are always in play. Never in a million years did I expect my dad to be the one to suggest I pick up my life and move with no perfectly stable plan for my future. My dad is always about the plan, backup plan, and then backup plan to the backup plan.
So, I made a plan, got in contact with the only and closest friend I knew in New York – my former college roommate lives in Brooklyn with her husband, and a week later, I booked a ONE-WAY ticket to New York. There was no going back. I would be leaving in one month. I was about to embark on living out the pure definition of what it means to pick up your life and chase your dream.
There was one rule I had for the family: absolutely no one outside of the house (except for any friend I needed to contact that was directly connected to my move) would know I was doing this, except for my grandmother.
It was a hectic month for me with Ramadan, keeping up on news about my family in Palestine during the latest massacre in Gaza, Eid, my closest cousin’s wedding, and actually needing to pack my life into two small suitcases for what could be 3 months to indefinitely.
One of my challenges was needing to tell my grandmother that I was leaving; the thought of leaving her was more difficult to me than leaving my own mother. There is always this constant worry in my heart that my goodbye in person could turn permanent and I kept pushing that thought out of my head. The day I told my mom I was going to visit sitti and tell her about the risk I was taking, I was both unsurprised and angry to find out my mom had told her that morning. I wanted her initial, raw reaction because my grandmother has this way of knowing straight up if something is crazy or carries potential, and I have learned to understand from the way she reacts or doesn’t react. I’m sure you have noticed that in my family, the act of not reacting is just as big and intense as reacting.
The night I told my tata about my plan, her support and honest response nearly ripped my heart apart, “Your mama told me.” We were in the kitchen and I was watching her making tea. “It is very difficult on me, you know. You know how much you are loved.” She was focusing intently on the pot of tea for the guests sitting in the living room, trying not to look at me. “I am going to miss you.” She finally stopped and looked directly at me, as if to make sure what she was about to say would imprint itself into my brain, which is did, “But, you need to go where you can build a life for yourself and there is no shame in trying. Go and I already know you’ll make us proud. If anyone can take a risk like this, it’s you. Promise, you’ll take care yourself and don’t forget us. Stay safe, do you understand?”
I knew what she meant by, “if anyone… it’s you” – I am taking this risk alone with nothing but my passion and true faith driving me forward. I kept making dua and praying that all the faith my parents and loved ones had in me wouldn’t fail them. That I wouldn’t fail them.
I told my two closest friends during Ramadan about my decision and their shock and support only resonated further in the support my loved ones were giving me. A week before I left, I let my aunts and uncles know, because I knew I needed their prayers and I didn’t want my parents to carry the burden of backlash they would get if I just disappeared off to the east coast and didn’t tell anyone. The reactions were more of surprise at not just me taking the risk, but also disbelief at my parents for allowing me to leave the house … single and unemployed. Support did soon follow, but I recognized the looks and reactions. They resembled the ones I received when people found out I wasn’t going to law school as I had planned for years, but instead I went after a MFA. I would continue to reap the blessings God gave me to sprint after my dreams.
Time seemed to not just pass by, but actually evaporate, like it hadn’t existed at all. I packed in two days, and said salaam to loved ones – because I don’t believe in goodbyes, and my family joked about what they would miss about me leaving… Still, my mother was going about the whole thing as if I wasn’t leaving. I realized more and more how alike we are with masking our emotions.
The morning I left, August 16, I was pretty numb. Everything was a blur because everything had happened way too fast and I still couldn’t believe I was leaving San Diego to pursue a very uncertain future. The only aspect I had managed to secure before heading to New York was housing. Looking back, in my head, I was certain that my mind was playing off the entire thing like I was going on an extended trip, not actually moving across the country to a city that can only be described as a completely different world. To put things into perspective, before August 16, I had never stepped foot on the east coast, let alone New York. Let that thought sink in a bit.
The moment of truth came after my bags were checked and I stood in front of security. I didn’t know what it meant to say salaam to my parents. To top it all off, this was the first time that both my parents and all three of my siblings not only dropped me off at the airport, but came down to watch me leave. That alone made the moment too real for me. Even if I left permanently, I hoped I would get a job that would allow me to save money to visit, but I also knew they would come visit me. What did hit me was that this wasn’t a trip. I held a one-way ticket that would change the course of my life forever, whether it be for better or worse. The risk I was taking I could never take back. People take risks all the time. I knew that. I have taken risks in the past, but in that moment, it terrified me that I couldn’t see past the TSA agent waiting to pat me down. This would either be the greatest or worst course of action I was taking, but I would never consider it a mistake. This could very well be, “goodbye, San Diego.”
I stood there and cried silently, which I have never done in public – and very rarely in private. As my family gave me a group hug, I couldn’t find the words to tell them that if I failed, I didn’t want anyone else to carry that burden or worse, think any ill of me. It would be all me. More so, I didn’t want anyone to know about my trip, because the more love and support I received, the riskier the path became because failing would be more public that something I would shoulder on my own… That wasn’t possible because the moment I walked through security and waved, my mom and each of my siblings posted vague statues on social media bidding me farewell. The floodgates of texts, messages, and confusion from friends and family crashed my phone. It was both a testament to who I had in my support circle, who really cared about me and quite frankly, who didn’t. Funny how big changes in your life filter out the people who care versus those who you become certain don’t have a place.
For everyone who keeps asking me how I made the decision to take the risk I’m living right now, this post is for you.
"I am learning every day to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be to inspire me to not terrify me." - Tracee Ellis Ross
I have been on the east coast for a month and week. I say east coast because I’m currently sitting in a coffee shop at Princeton University, New Jersey, not in New York… You’ll soon understand why through my next post. It’s been a insane month full of exploration, adventure, and struggles. I’m happy to report that I’m constantly told that I could easily pass for a New Yorker and not as someone who was dropped here a little over a month ago. People are often surprised at how easily I have assimilated to the east coast, embracing both the positive and negative vibes surrounding each day I have been here.
When I think about it, the reasoning is obvious and logical to me. I came to New York with a purpose and goal, with one direction — to seek employment in the field of writing, editing, possibly organizational work, and even photography. I’m also here working on my writing, editing my first novel while in the midst of writing my second novel and outlining for a memoir. I have a lot on my plate and it has not been easy, but I welcome the challenges and obstacles as my road to strength and success.
I told a friend recently that I am aware of those that continue to expect me to wake up and have some kind of break down, regretting the risk I have taken upon myself. I know a large part of it is that I'm doing this completely alone. It has not been easy, but I was very aware of what I was getting myself into when I made the decision. It was the same when I chose to go after an MFA and become a writer and editor. I went into my field of study for the sake of Allah swt in my passion for the written word and the belief that Muslims, especially females, need a voice across literature and media. I moved to accomplish my goal for the sake of Allah swt as well. Honestly, every single thing that could have gone wrong has happened, but I push forward. I've always had the strong belief, whether it's all the risks I'm taking right now or anything else in my life. I plan and plan, but Allah swt also plans and what He plans is best. So, I do everything I can to accomplish my goal, but then I also have to sit back and enjoy the beauty and craziness, because no matter how much I do, the rest is for Allah swt to bring together. I have full tawakul in God’s plan for me. I'm aware that I'm seriously struggling, but I don't believe in backing down. We truly grow stronger from our experiences. Allah swt never puts you in a situation that you can't handle. I know it's going to take a long time, and in the meantime, I’ll enjoy the journey – the good and bad.
I'm learning more about the way I handle challenging situations, but I'm also learning more about those around me. It's crazy that in New York, you're always surrounded by people, but also alone as you move through the crowds. I don't know what's going to happen, but I know that I'll get through it one way or another by moving forward.
“No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself, for the outcome of all affairs is determined by Allah’s (God's) decree. If something is meant to go elsewhere, it will never come your way, but if it is yours by destiny, from it you cannot flee.” - Umar Ibn Al-Khattaab (RA)
Now that you have been somewhat updated, I will begin sharing stories of my life as a San Diego, Arab-American hijabi tackling the beast we all like to call New York. I will also be sharing a plethora of photography of my adventures. There is so much beauty here.
I hope that you will continue to follow me on my journey as I chase my dreams and experience life. I will honestly admit that I poured my heart out to you all in this post. If I’m going to take risks, I might as well go big, right? For more frequent updates, be sure to follow me on Twitter @haneenoriqat, Instagram @haneenoriqatphotography, and especially my Facebook writer page at facebook.com/haneenoriqatwriter.
Here's to over an entire month of surviving New York as I continue to conquer this new chapter of my life and move to travel this beautiful world of ours...
(This is the first picture I took in New York. I’m sure that it doesn’t surprise you that I chose for my first picture to be of The New York Public Library in Manhattan, New York. I am aware that it’s not a great picture, quite horrible actually, but I was awestruck by the library’s beauty. I was taking in the moment more than worrying about the lack of perfection of my first picture in New York… More to come soon.)